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Key Considerations For Manual Prototype Assembly

Considerations For Manual Prototype Assembly

Prototype assembly involves the composition of components and sub-assemblies into a complete product or unit of a product using manual, human dexterity, skill and judgment. Assemblies can be further assisted by mechanised or automated systems for feeding, handling, fitting and checking operations.

The key considerations for manual prototype assembly are component placement and positioning, handling procedures and ergonomics (see the table below). For electronic devices, circuit boards are often assembled by hand. In this case, the PCB must be designed with assembly in mind to facilitate easy manual insertion and soldering. This includes the use of standard component packages and adequate spacing. Orientation of polarized parts (capacitors, diodes and ICs) in the same direction also helps to reduce assembly errors.

In addition, the design must address assembly port locations and sizes and optimum handling dimensions to aid insertion and removal, prevent damage and enhance overall product quality. The final assembly should be visually inspected and tested prior to release. Minor cracks or breaks can be fixed using adhesives specifically designed for plastic repair, and larger sections can be reprinted and assembled to restore the prototype’s functionality.

Handmade prototypes are highly effective for ergonomic studies but have high cost and long lead times. They are typically crafted from a variety of materials including clay, plaster and machinable metals. These models can be painted and finished if required but the process is labour intensive. Masking, painting, sanding and polishing can produce complex shapes with tight tolerances but are limited in their use for mechanical strength testing or environmental stress simulation.

Key Considerations For Manual Prototype Assembly

Alternatively, PCBs can be assembled by hand using surface mount technology (SMT) components which are placed and positioned manually or with mechanised insertion systems. The SMT approach can be fast and efficient and is ideal for low to medium production runs and one-off projects with a simple design. This method is not suitable for electrical performance or environmental stress testing but it offers high durability, good heat dissipation and ease of assembly.

However, the time taken to perform a combined handling/fitting operation is significantly increased by ad hoc decisions and worker fatigue, so it’s important to incorporate this information into the initial design stage. There are a number of different methods to estimate the amount of time that it takes for an operator to insert or remove a component, but they’re all fairly complicated and require specialised training to apply.

To make assembly tasks as simple and straightforward as possible, it’s vital to select the right tool for each job. For example, when hand-placing a tiny 0201 inductor on a PCB, a good pair of tweezers are essential. It’s also important to find a work area with good, direct light. Placing small components requires great visual and mental focus, and is much more difficult if you’re tired or stressed. This is especially true if you have thousands of placements to make! If you’re working on a deadline, don’t rush. You’re more likely to make mistakes, and the extra effort required to correct these can greatly increase your final assembly costs.

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